Ear discharge also referred to as leaking ear is a common ear problem in children and adults alike. Also described as weeping ear, in this condition fluid persistently seeps out of the ear. Fluid oozing out of the ear, followed by irritation in the ear are some of the symptoms of ear problem.
Ear drainage is an alternative term used for ear discharge. Is it a serious ear problem? Well, it depends on the color of the fluid coming out of the ear. It is discussed below:
If light brown colored fluid is leaking out, then there is no need to worry as the accumulated earwax is making its way out of the ear in the form of watery fluid. In fact, it is good news because this dirty matter (earwax) is coming out on it own without the need of insertion of any surgical instruments. Too much build up of earwax can reduce the ability to hear properly and hence brown fluid discharge is always a welcome change. Earwax is dark brown in color but when it comes in contact with bodily fluids, it turns light brown and watery.
Cloudy fluid is indicating formation of pus in the ear, which means there is some sort of ear infection. People suffering from swimmer's ear (infection and inflammation of the ear canal) can cause a clear or whitish discharge from the ear. A condition known as otitis media in which the middle ear gets inflamed and suffers from viral or bacterial infection can also cause yellow ear drainage. Ears getting exposed to moisture for long periods of time creates a perfect environment for the bacteria to grow. Swimmers commonly face this type of infection in which the ear itches excessively and is followed by clear odorless discharge from the ear.
Yellowish White Fluid
When the ear is draining yellow colored fluid, it might indicate damage to the eardrum. Small amount of blood may also leak due to perforated eardrum. Smelly ear drainage has also been associated with a burst eardrum. Immediate medical attention is the need of the hour following small to major tear in the eardrum.
Bleeding is indicating a severe injury in the ear canal. Hair pins or any other pointed object used in an attempt to clean the ear is likely to damage the eardrum unknowingly. Simply put, this wrong habit of removing earwax can also cause bloody ear discharge. A sharp object trapped in the ear canal may not only cause excruciating pain but can also be a source of bleeding. Exposure to extreme loud noise or a head injury can rupture the eardrum leading to bleeding.
When eczema strikes inside the ear, it may also cause ear drainage. As we all know, the term eczema refers to a skin problem in which the superficial skin looks inflamed and the affected area itches terribly. Blisters may also erupt on the site affected with eczema. Many times, the blisters break open thereby releasing bodily fluids. So when blistered eczema occurs in the ear, there is a possibility of fluid discharge. Ear eczema is often the result of contact with skin irritants that are commonly present in hair shampoos and hair sprays.
Even swimming in chlorinated water and eating certain foods are known to cause ear eczema. This skin problem in which the blisters burst and ooze out the fluid is called weeping eczema. Children diagnosed with weeping eczema in the ear are likely to experience fluid discharge from the ear. Severe cases of ear eczema typically make the skin crack and turn scaly. Over time, the cracked skin may bleed slightly. Thus, bleeding from ears does not necessarily mean ruptured eardrum but could indicate severe ear eczema.
If the ear discharge is persistent or is bothering the child, taking him to the doctor at the earliest is very important. In case of swimmer's ear, firstly a suction device is used to remove all the fluid. Antibiotic or anti fungal ear drops might be prescribed depending upon the microbes responsible for causing swimmer's ear. For ear eczema, staying away from the skin irritants as well as a modified diet may work to get rid of it.
A point to note that although brown discharge from the ear is pinpointing towards presence of excessive earwax, one should not allow the child to put any object inside the ear in order to remove it. This habit can damage both the ear canal and eardrum. Instead, take him to a ENT specialist as removing earwax under the supervision of a doctor is the safest option to clean the ear.